1927 Packard 426 Speedster

Udo Müller’s labor of love – for a great cause

Call it luck or call it fate. In either case the survival of this 1927 Packard 426 Roadster helped a lot of people.

The bushfires of February 2009 that swept across the state of Victoria, in Australia, were started by a fallen powerline. More than one hundred seventy people perished, and more than two thousand homes were destroyed. In the little town of Marysville, thirty-nine people died and the town was effectively obliterated. One of the town’s residents, Dean Laidlaw, had recently loaned his 1927 Packard to the Marysville Museum Collection, so, fortunately, it was not at his house when the ferocious fire struck the town – in fact, the twenty-car museum was one of just a handful of buildings that survived.

Following the devastation, Dean decided to sell the car and donate a significant amount of money to help his local community get back on its feet. The car was auctioned by Shannons in late February 2009, an Australian company called Rainsfords Collectable bought it. Rainsfords advertised the car on the website of PreWarCar, where Udo Müller read it. Udo has a business in Germany restoring classic motorcycles and cars, and he felt both inspired and capable of restoring this fine automobile. On the 11th of May 2009, he bought the 1927 Packard without having seen it.

Described as being in “unrestored” condition, Udo stripped the Packard down to a bare chassis that he started to completely rebuild. He overhauled the engine, fitting new pistons, bearings, bushings, and gaskets. Much bodywork was needed, particularly on the wood frame, which was not as good as he had hoped. And so, as he was “running out of steam,” he took a break from the project.

Meanwhile Odo had been sharing his lovely 1936 Riley 12/4 two seat sports car with his daughter Johanna, among others. They raced on the glorious beach on the island of Rømø in Denmark, the annual celebration of speed that takes place in a very relaxed atmosphere where classic US style hot-rods race alongside aero-engined monsters and pre-war sports cars. Racing at the 2021 Rømø Motor Festival inspired Udo to build a new Speedster body for the Packard.

Udo has always enjoyed woodworking, so he decided to make the body out of wood with a leather covering typical of late-1920s sporting cars. Working by himself on weekends and in the evenings, he set a deadline of the 2022 Rømø event, which is where I first saw the car.

Udo kept the less-than-perfect original body in his workshop, and he showed me how he had kept the chassis, transmission, and engine absolutely original. I was stunned by the high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail he has achieved.  There are hard-to-define, but crucial visual rules, never written down, that can make a project like this succeed or fail. The relationship of the radiator to the front axle centreline, the size and placement of the headlamps, rear overhang, and the plan shape of the body and tail – these are the fundamentals of good design. The 1927 Packard is certainly a great starting point, so many of the fundamental proportions of the car are “just right.” Udo has an eye for bringing the collection of parts together in a way that looks faultless – just dropping the headlamps a couple of inches is typical of his search for perfection. Compared with building a car like this in the US, such a build in Germany or, more difficult still, in Denmark is not easy. It needs a lot of perseverance and patience, particularly in Denmark where the authorities require the car to have an annual test. But the true enthusiasts do just this.

The car was driven all the way from Germany by Udo in convoy with his daughter in the Riley and was immediately a great hit on the beach.

Is such renovation the right thing to do with a car from 1927? The answer to this question depends a bit on one’s sensibility. Nothing has been irreparably modified in such a way that it can’t be restored back to stock. The car was sold for a very good cause. It has brought a great deal of pleasure to both Udo and his family and a whole new group of enthusiasts. It has kept alive a number of important skills. And, perhaps most importantly, Udo Müller’s car is a tribute to the finest qualities of a great make – Packard.